Tuesday, 11 November 2008

First Time as Tragedy, Second Time As....?

The big American car makers, the backbone of their industrial dominance for almost a century, are in trouble. Obama is under pressure - which he will, inevitably, bow to in some way - to save them through an injection of tax payers money. What constitutes a 'Leftwing' approach to this? I have two thoughts.

Firstly, for a Brit of a certain age, there are inescapable reminders of the long, painful decline of British Leyland. For all the endless re-organisation and cumulative nationalisations the basic problem was never faced: the need to modernise and retool for a different age. Throughout the seventies and early eighties, BL always had old fashioned products produced in an old fashioned way. This was, of course, primarily a failure of management and governments - but it is also true that the BL unions never once glimpsed the possibility of an alterative future in the way that the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Alternative Plan did. Looking back it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this lack of an alternative industrial strategy made the successive ‘rescue’ plans all little more than a series of temporary sticking plasters. Nationalisation alone is not enough. Why should any American bail out of their car industry follow a different path?

Secondly, this is not the 1970s: almost all versions of the Left would wish to recognise green concerns. To what extent are such concerns compatible with saving the automobile industry? Sure, any bail out could be made conditional on the car makers switching away from SUVs towards hybrids and so forth. But a bigger change than this is surely needed. Mass public transport is surely the priority, not further production of cars. So what else can large scale car plants actually produce and how would they fit into any Green New Deal? Because the eventual closing, or very significant down sizing, of these kinds of facilities has got to be an option in the medium term. So either they can produce other things or, in the not too distant future, they have to go....and 'bail out' monies might be better spent creating alternative employment opportunities.

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